Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Been a good week for Nishikori...

Nishikori signs deal with Sony
... the 18 year old from Japan broke into the top 100 after winning a challenger event in Bermuda. In the final he once again showed he has balls, coming back from a set down and saving two match points.

He's now ranked 99 and is the youngest player in the top 100.

And then it was announced today that he has signed a three year deal with Sony to promote their TVs and stereos. According to Nick Bollettieri its rumoured to be a record breaking deal for tennis sponsorship.

Kei is definately going places.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Djokovic: British players have it too good

Monday night's BBC Inside Sport had an interview and profile of Novak Djokovic. He said some nice things about Murray but had some home truths for the other British players, who lack hunger because they have everything on a plate.

He's not the first to say it - Henman said something similar a few years ago - and I'm sure privately Roger Draper and others at the LTA may agree.

You can watch it here.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Federer back on track

Wow, what a great week of tennis in Monte Carlo. Nadal may have defended his title but for me there was only one winner this week: Federer.

Roger has got his mojo back. Against Nalbandian, Djokovic, and Nadal he proved that in terms of confidence and fitness he's almost back to his superhuman best.

And in the final yesterday he showed again that he is more than capable of beating Nadal on clay - Can't believe he let the second set slip through his fingers - and he defended his points into the bargain.

Didn't see enough of the match to see if Drucker was on the money (he usually is) with his analysis of what Higueras will bring to Federer, but it's a great piece on how slice is the key to beating Rafa on clay.

Youtube highlights below

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Olivier Rochus V Roger Federer. Rochus may not be able to beat Federer but he gets the better of the maestro with this lob. Watch it here.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Djoko retires (again)

In the past year Djokovic has retired when losing against Nadal (Wimbledon); when leading Davydenko (Davis Cup); and losing to Federer (today in Monte Carlo).

He's either physically or mentally vulnerable, which is possible and could be just part of his development (after all, a year ago people were saying Murray, who is the same age, was overly susceptible to injury).

Or as some have suggested it is a cynical attempt to avoid conceding a psychological advantage to his rivals in the top 4.

Either way, if Djokovic is serious about becoming No 1 he needs to break this bad habit.

The up side of his disappointing decision to abandon his semi against Federer is that we have another Federer - Nadal final to look forward to tomorrow. And for some reason I thing Federer might just edge it.

Friday, 25 April 2008

The big 4 are through…

… to the semi’s. Apparently it’s the first time since Cincinnati in 1999 that the top 4 seeds have made it through to the last four of a Masters Event.

Federer was impressive against Nalbandian, easily his best performance in 2008. The first set was full of brilliant, absorbing tennis, culminating in Nalbandian breaking Federer and serving out to win 7 – 5.

But the Argentine – who has a 8 – 8 head to head record with Federer - was unable to keep it up or stay with Federer when he upped his game to another level.

He is slowly getting back to his very best. Not there yet but enough signs to suggest he will be peak in time for the run from Wimbledon to New York.

But in the meantime he has another major test. Djokovic in the semi tomorrow afternoon. Can’t wait.

Highlights below thanks to Cosmicoz

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

A champion's performance

I’ve just watched the re-run of Federer v Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo. What an extraordinary match. What an extraordinary performance from Federer, who once again highlighted that being a great champion requires more than just a great game and pretty strokes.

You need balls, a ferocious will to win, and unbelievable mental strength. As the old saying goes, tennis is all in the head.

Federer cruised through the first set 6 – 1 and was in complete control. If anything it was too easy and his concentration slipped in the second and he let Hidalgo back in the game.

And credit where it’s due, Hidalgo then played out of his skin to not only take the second 6 – 3 but also go 5 – 1 in the third. He was matching and beating Federer shot for shot.

It was then that Federer proved his resilience on court is second to none as he rallied from 5 – 1 to bring the score back to 5- 4, with Hidalgo serving for the match. At 30 all Federer held his nerve in a lengthy rally to force a break point.

It then became apparent that Hidalgo simply did not believe he could win. His head let him down and he doubled faulted to hand Federer the game. The next two games went with serve and then Federer steam-rollered Hidalgo in the tie break 7 - 1.

Must have been a crazy mixture of emotions for Hidalgo. He’d pushed the world’s No 1 all the way to the brink but somehow let victory slip through his fingers, even though he was only two points away on two occasions.

Federer looked totally spent at the end and it will be interesting to see what the effect of today’s performance is. He’s clearly not yet recovered his full fitness. For the past five years he’s not just been the world’s greatest tennis player, he’s (arguably) been the world’s greatest athlete.

Getting that extreme level of conditioning back will take time. What remains unclear is whether he can use the clay season – the toughest stretch of the year - to play his way to fitness.

I guess tomorrow’s match with Monfils will give us a good idea.

You can watch the highlights below

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

A good couple of days for British tennis

A couple of firsts for Britain's best and 'worst' players.

Robert Dee wins his first professional match after three years and 55 attempts. Not a record to be proud of but you got to admire his guts for continuing to slog it out. Shame it didn't last, he lost in the next round.

Meanwhile Murray racks up his first back to back victories on clay to set up a third round match with Djokovic in Monte Carlo. Happy days.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Who is defending what points on clay?

This one’s for Van at tennis talk, anyone? and all the other tennis stat addicts (you know who you are). I’ve crunched some numbers and pulled together who is defending what during the clay season.

This is by no means exhaustive, I’ve limited it to the current top 10 plus a selection of players who went deep in one or more tournaments last year. And then of course I added Murray in to illustrate that he has little to defend, and a great chance of reclaiming his top ten spot.

In the next day two I’ll try to make sense of the numbers but in the meantime feel free to add your own analysis in the comments.


Monte Carlo – finalist 350 points

Rome – third round 75 points

Hamburg – winner 500 points

French – finalist 700 points


Monte Carlo – winner 500 points

Barcelona – winner 300 points

Rome - winner 500 points

Hamburg – finalist 350 points

French - winner 1,000 points


Monte Carlo – third round 75 points

Estoril – winner 200 points

Rome – quarter finals 125 points

Hamburg – quarter finals 125 points

French – semis 450 points


Monte Carlo – second round 35 points

Barcelona – quarter final 75 points

Estoril – first round zero points

Rome - semis 225 points

Hamburg – third round 75 points

French – semis 450 points


Monte Carlo – quarter final 125 points

Barcelona – semi 135 points

Rome – first round 5 points

Hamburg – quarter finals 125 points

French – third round 75 points


Rome – third round 75 points

French – first round 5 points


Monte Carlo – second round 35 points

Barcelona – quarter final 75 points

French – fourth round 150 points


Houston – Semi’s, 75 points

Rome – second round 35 points

Hamburg – third round 75 points

French – first round 5 points


Monte Carlo – quarter final 125 points

Estoril – finalist 140 points

Rome – second round 35 points

Hamburg – second round 35 points

French – second round 35 points


Monte Carlo – semi 225 points

Rome – quarter final 125 points

Hamburg – second round 35 points

French - first round 5 points


Rome – first round 5 points

Hamburg – first round 5 points


Valencia – Winner, 175 points


Houston – Winner, 175 points


Barcelona - finalist 210 points

French – quarter final 250 points


Monte Carlo – semi 225 points


Rome - finalist 350 points


Hamburg – semis 225 points

French – quarter finals 250 points


Rome - semis 225 points

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Fernando Gonzalez v Guillermo Canas. Gonzalez wins a great rally with a between the legs passing shot. Watch it here.

Friday, 18 April 2008

It's a shame these guys are only part-time tennis bloggers

New Yorker tennis blogI've just belatedly discovered New Yorker magazine's blog of last year's US Open written by two of their regular writers Nick Paumgarten and John Colapinto.

It may be more than 6 months old but if like me you missed it first time around it is essential reading.

There are loads of well written nuggests here, including how to beat John Isner (from someone who beat him when they were kids!!); and an introduction to the Szavay sisters (Agnes and Blanka) - I'm ashamed to say this 20 yr old rising star (and her younger sister) wasn’t on my radar, even though she is now 13 in the world.

I also loved the posts on how everyone knows their own version of Santoro, "who throws so much junk your way that you are powerless to keep from imploding", and how Federer won ugly against Djokovic in the final.

There's so much to enjoy here. I've only read a fraction of their postings, but already I'm hooked. And in the same way that when you see the pro players in action you are both inspired and humbled, so it is with this blog.

Just as I'll never have Federer's forehand (or anything else of his for that matter, apart from his tendency of losing to spanish guys on clay) nor will I ever be able to write about tennis with as much, energy, insight and humor. Bring on this year's NY Open.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Hold the front page - it's official, line judges get it wrong some of the time.

They would probably be offended if you put it to them, but university academics are often very switched on when it comes to PR. They recognise that media visibility doesn't just raise their profile or help with book sales, it can also secure research funding.

So not a (day?) week goes by without me opening the paper to see a story about some half-baked study. You know the sort of thing, Professor X has worked out the scientifc equasion for why dogs bark.

It's the sort of stuff that gets me wondering whether they don't have better things to spend their time and our money on. But all was forgiven after I read an article in yesterday's Guardian.

Dr George Mather from Sussex University has conducted a study into the accuracy of line calls in tennis. Mather looked at 1,473 challenges by players in 15 tournaments between 2006 and 2007.

Apparently 95% of challenges refer to balls that bounce within 10cm of the line and line judges are wrong nearly 40% of the time when they are challenged.

Putting aside whether this was a good use of time or money, what this research does confirm is my own unscientific view that Hawkeye is a great innovation. It's not just highly entertaining it also improves the game by reducing the understandable frustration the pro's get from bad calls.

This is my favourite bit from the press release (see what I mean about being PR savvy)

Analysis also threw up other insights - a widely differing number of challenges made by individual players. Professor Mather says: "One player in the top ten made only seven challenges in 15 tournaments, while another made 52. But the analysis indicated that a certain proportion of line call errors are inevitable, so players should make full use of the challenges available.

I'd love to know who only made 7 challenges.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Sampras to play in London

The Tour of Champions has lost its way in recent years. It used to be a great event, largely due to the enduring appeal of seeing John McEnroe play.

But being less choosy about who can enter has taken the shine off the event. McEnroe is a still a class act but finds it increasingly tough to compete with the younger, fitter, but less interesting journeymen the organisers have admitted in the last couple of years.

This has deprived the event of its PR ‘big shout’. The original USP was to watch legends from yesterday battle it out. But the reaction from most punters to a Paul Haarhuis v Guy Forget final is "Paul who?"

Which is why the announcement yesterday that Pete Sampras will be competing at this December's event at the Albert Hall is such a coup.

Because unlike many of the players who have made up the numbers in the last couple of years Sampras is of course, a true great.

Lets hope this is the beginning of something special. It would be fantastic if some of the other greats from the Sampras generation – Agassi, Becker, Chang – also signed up.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Great moments in tennis No 8 – Becker calls it a day

Centre Court Wimbledon, July 1997. Boris Becker, darling of the Wimbledon crowd for more than 10 years, is defeated by Pete Sampras in the quarter finals. Becker then stole the show by surprising Sampras, and the rest of the world, and announcing his retirement with immediate effect.

At the net at the end of the match Becker congratulated his old rival on his victory and then said ''This was it for me; this was my last match at Wimbledon and I'm glad it was against you.''

It was a classy way to call time on a great career. The game itself was a bit of a disappointment. The previous year the two men had served up a classic 5 setter in the final of the end of season Masters Cup, with Sampras eventually breaking Becker in the fifth set, after Boris held serve for 27 consecutive games.

Unfortunately, Becker couldn’t push Sampras as close at Wimbledon, with Sampras winning comfortably. You can read The New York Times match report and Becker tribute here And you can watch Sampras close out the match below with a combination of his famous second serve, and his serve volleying.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Nishikori takes a set off Federer

There was a bit of a buzz (rightly so) 6 or 7 weeks ago when Japanese wunderkid Kei Nishikori beat Blake to win San Jose.

But even though he was centre of attention for a few days I somehow missed the story that he took a set off Federer during practice last year in Miami. Further proof that he is one to watch.

Richard Vach on the Dsyfunctional Tennis Blog has the story here.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Federer hires new coach for clay season

The word is Jose Higueras will be working with Federer during the clay season. Higueras has coached a number of great players over the years, including three former French Open Champions Courier, Chang and Bruguera, as well as Sampras. Hat tip to Go to tennis who has the story here.

Photo © Paulo Maria/ProTENIS, Portugal

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Youzhny V Almagro. More crowd pleasing action from Mikhail Youzhny, this time without the head smashing. A full stretch diving return from Youzhny at the end of a rally that proves the old adage about going for every shot. Watch it here.

Friday, 11 April 2008


Six of the best from the web

* Kamakshi Tandon on on the clay season & race for No 1.

* Van at Tennis Talk Anyone bigs up the Davis Cup

* ATP Tennis Blog also has a good Davis Cup preview.

* Nick Bollettierie on Safin's big win in Davis Cup.

* Nate Cunningham praises Roddick's character & personality.

* The Tennis Centre on Davydenko.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Great moments in tennis No 7 - Henman's finest hour

From 1998 to 2004 Tim Henman reaching the semi's or quarters of Wimbledon was a given. It became a summer tradition. The problem for Henman was that after a year or two the public and media took it for granted.

They quickly forgot that for the previous 20 years the closest we'd come to a successful run at Wimbledon from a British tennis player was Jeremy Bates failing to convert a match point against Guy Forget in the 4th round.

Henman's success - lets not forget he was a top 10 player on and off for 7 years - created expectations that sadly he was unable to fulfill. The public willed him to win the tournament. Unfortunately for Henman his time in the game coincided with two of the all time greats, both masters on grass, Sampras and Federer.

This led to him being branded (unfairly) as an under achiever. Personally I think he took what he had and over achieved. But that's a debate for another time.

There were many highs and lows at SW19 but for me Henman's two greatest achievements both occurred in Paris - reaching the semi of the French in 2004 by serve volleying, and winning the indoor Masters event in 2003, one of the biggest events in tennis after the 4 Slams.

En route to the final of the Masters event Henman beat a string of world class players including world No 1's Kuerten, Roddick and Federer, plus Davydenko and Grosjean, dropping only one set.

The final itself was a tight, edgy affair, with Henman unable to reproduce the quality of tennis which swept him to the final. But he disproved those who claimed he lacked a killer instinct, by holding his nerve in two tie breaks, to beat Andrei Pavel 6-2, 7-6, 7-6.

I've searched Youtube but can't find any video footage from the Masters triumph - which tells you all you need to know about our failure in the UK to recognise that the tennis season extends beyond Queens and Wimbledon. But you can read the Guardian's match report for the final here

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Murray gears up for clay

Last Friday Andy Murray announced that Alex Corretja - who twice reached the final of the French Open - will work with him during the clay season. It's a clear sign that Murray is looking to make the most of the fact that he is not defending many points on clay.

He missed the French Open last year following his injury in Hamburg, and so if he goes deep this year in the Masters Series Events in Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg, plus at Roland Garros, he can propel himself back into top 10.

Murray spent his formative years on clay at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona but has not had much success in recent years on the brown stuff. He told the BBC website "When I went over to practise in Barcelona I won some tournaments on the clay so it's a court I can play well on. But I've hardly played on clay for the last couple of years so I'm going to try to get some good practice in and try to get used to it again."

Murray also confirmed today that he will represent Britain at the Olympics.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Sports Illustrated's Wertheim on Monica Seles

There was a nice feature piece in yesterday's Observer Sport Monthly by L Jon Wertheim on Monica Seles, who had "perhaps the most tragically unfulfilled career in sports history"

It charts Seles' rise to the top as a teenager, how from 16 to 19 she won 8 Slams, enjoyed more than 100 weeks in the No 1 spot, and blew away Steffi Graf.

Then of course came the terrible court-side knife attack, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder. Werheim has a terrific take on the reaction in the locker room:

"For a sport too often dismissed as genteel country club divertissement, tennis can be remarkably brutal. Never was this more clear than when Seles's colleagues voted down a proposal to let her keep her number-one ranking during her absence. Gabriela Sabatini was the lone hold-out. 'Gaby is a human being,' Seles said at the time. 'The rest, they treated it like it was a sprained ankle or something."

Wertheim then goes onto look at the subsequent decline in her career, culminating in her 'double bagel' defeat to Hingis in Miami in 2000. But what is so great - and reaffirming - about the piece is how Seles put her life back together and became far "more popular - beloved, really - as a diminished player".

You can read it here

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Racket abuse of the week

There can't be many people who play tennis - whether they're pro's or Sunday morning park players - who at some point haven't wanted to smash their racket into the court out of pure frustration.

Thankfully most of us are able to keep it together - after all rackets don't come cheap. On the pro circuit, however, not a week goes by without someone taking it out on their racket. But last week Mikhail Youzny took it to another level during his third round tie at the Miami Open.

Youzny was 5-4 down against Nicolas Almagro in the final set, and had forced a vital break point. But after blowing his chance of breaking back Youzny lost it and proceded to whack his forehead with the edge of his racket frame 3 or 4 times, drawing blood.

The wound was so bad that he had to take a time out for the trainer to patch him up. Amazingly he then got back on court and broke Almagro and went onto wrap up the match in a tie break. Seriously kids, don't do this at home.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Play of the week

Mercedes ATP Play of the week. Juan Carlos Ferrero v Mario Ancic. Ridiculous trick shot winner from Ferrero. Watch it here.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Respect for Roddick

Seems like my post last night was the kiss of death for Federer with Roddick ending a run of 11 straight defeats to win in 3 (7-6, 4-6, 6-3).

I’m a fully paid up member of the Federer fan club but I’m really pleased for Roddick. I’m sure some will suggest that the result is cheapened by the fact Federer has still not shrugged off his loss of form / fitness / confidence but it is a great result for Roddick.

It’s hard to imagine how tough it must be for Roddick to motivate himself for a game against an opponent who has soundly beaten him so many times before.

But, as I mentioned yesterday, Roddick has never stopped believing. He deserves massive respect and credit for this.

I think credit should also go to Connors. OK, Roddick didn’t win a slam during their time together (but nor did anyone else apart from Roger and Rafa), but Jimmy - as Roddick said himself – instilled both belief and fighting spirit.

Since January Roddick has won 2 tournaments and beaten Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Disappointing early exits in Melbourne and Indian Wells mean it has not been a perfect start to the year, but Roddick has got his mojo back and shown that on his day he remains a true threat to anyone.

Unfortunately we’re about to enter the clay season, which has never been comfortable time of year for Roddick, but I really hope Roddick can maintain form and momentum and take it into Queens and Wimbledon, and then onto the summer hard court season. Who knows, maybe there's still another slam in him...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Roddick brings out the best in Federer

I'm really looking forward to Roddick v Federer tonight. Federer has a 15 - 1 advantage over Roddick but their matches have produced some world class tennis over the years. My favourites include the masterclass Federer served up in the semi of the 2007 Australian Open; and the 2004 Wimbledon Final.

Roddick is often (unfairly?) portrayed as a one dimensional, one slam wonder. But say what you like the guy has got game - if it wasn't for Federer he'd probably won another 3 slams by now - and heart, he keeps coming back for more. And keeps believing he is going to win.

Unfortunately his best efforts - and Roddick always gives it his all - come up short. But fortunately, for the rest of us, Roddick invariably brings out the best in Federer.

There's no better example of this than the video below of a rally I think is from Basel in 2001 or 2002. Roddick is all over Federer at the net, and goes to put away a smash. No other man alive could get the ball pack in play let alone hit a winner.

Hat tip to Gammler26 for the video.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

All you need to know about British tennis

Henman retired from the tour more than six months ago. He's not played a game or earned any ranking points since the US Open. And yet technically he is still Britain's No 5, ranked 331 in the world, only one place behind Bloomfield and ahead of Goodall, Slabinsky, Childs, and Seator. Enough said.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Tough at the top

Federer feeling the heat in Miami
Van over at Tennis Talk, Anyone has a great post on the significance of Miami for Federer. Check it out here.

As Van rightly says, Federer needs to get back on track ASAP. At the moment his aura of invincibility - which used to intimidate opponents - is starting to ebb way. Roger needs to send a message.

Irrespective of the outcome in Miami, I still expect Federer will end the year No 1 - but it’s unlikely he'll dominate the sport as totally as he did between 2004 and 2007.

As I’ve said before, the simple fact is the chasing pack have closed the gap. Federer will overhaul Sampras but the next 3 years will be much harder than the last 3.

But the guy at the top who is under the most pressure at the moment is Nadal. Federer's slump seems to have masked the fact that Rafa has not won a tournament on any surface apart from clay for over 12 months.

I predit he'll lose the No 2 spot to Djokovic by Christmas. And like Guerry Smith over at the Dysfunctional Tennis Blog I don’t think Nadal will ever make it to No 1.